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Getting Ready For Battle
It was nearly six years ago when the book series of British author Cressida Cowell came to the attention of creative executives at DreamWorks Animation. With an established reputation for taking small but well-respected titles and spinning them into box office success, it didn't take more than a Norse minute for them to see the cinematic potential in the exploits of a scrawny kid named Hiccup trying to find his niche in the brawny world of Vikings. "If you're writing about Vikings and Dragons it has got to be something that is going to be on a grand scale,” says Cowell. "I was incredibly excited when DreamWorks expressed interest in the books, as I knew they could do the movie on a scale that I could barely even imagine!”

Coming off of her success of the DreamWorks suburban adventure comedy "Over the Hedge,” it also didn't take long for producer Bonnie Arnold to become interested in the newly acquired property. She kept her eye on the project as it bubbled its way through the development process, and when DreamWorks Animation co-president of production Bill Damaschke asked her what she wanted to work on next, she chose "How to Train Your Dragon.”

For Arnold, one of the biggest challenges as a producer was taking an established world like the one created in Cowell's books and adapting it into a full-length feature film. "We wanted to make the film a big event, a real action-adventure with great characters that would be appealing to a broad audience,” explains Arnold. "In all our other movies, the main characters are adults or animals, but in this film, we have a teenager as our hero and that is a new direction for the studio. Hiccup's personality and his interactions with the dragons and the different personalities of the Vikings are the basis for the humor in the story, versus humor that is more satire or topical. It's got adventure and humor and heart, the elements were all there, but we just needed a strong writing/directing team to help shape it.”

To helm the project, the studio turned to Oscar®-nominated writer/director Chris Sanders and writer/director Dean DeBlois. For Sanders, the attraction to Hiccup's tale was immediate: "I think the story inside this story is one of emotional depth, which I thought was exciting, but what piqued my interest were the flying sequences,” says Sanders. "For a very long time, I have wanted to do a film that somehow involved creatures, people or superheroes flying, so when I read an early version of this story, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh! We can take that to places that you've never been before!'”

"Chris called me up on a weekend right after Jeffrey Katzenberg had talked to him,” adds writer/director Dean DeBlois, "and he mentioned that ‘How to Train Your Dragon' was something that was really in my wheelhouse, specifically, a teenaged protagonist in a larger-than-life fantasy action-adventure. And that's really something that I am drawn to—those are the stories that I write. I immediately was engaged and I read the book. I could see a lot of potential for what could be, and working with Chris again just sounded like an exciting thing.”

While the book picks up at a point where dragons have become integrated into the Vikings' societal structure, the filmmakers saw that taking the timeline back a few years would prove to be key. Explains Arnold, "In terms of storytelling, I think our breakthrough was crafting an origin story—how Hiccup and his relationship with a dragon named Toothless really changed his world. It was this story we wanted to tell, about how he started the relationship between the Vikings and the dragons that led to the adventures in the books, the ones that we hear about, and know and love.”

Cowell's books were loosely based on the author's childhood experiences spent on a remote, uninhabited island off of the west coast of Scotland.<

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